When Madison Griffith first had sex, she expected it to hurt. The 22 year old had never been able to insert a tampon. It was too painful. She assumed, as any teenage girl would, that she was just inserting it incorrectly. Before long, she just gave up.
When she decided to have sex with a long-term boyfriend at 16, she said the pain didn’t strike her as unusual.
“It was more so the times after that, it was very difficult to start. It felt like losing your virginity every time. It was incredibly painful afterwards. There was this moment of just grinning and bearing it, I was dishonest with my first partner as well, he never knew, I kept that from him for 18 months,” she said.
"When you see porn and what not, these women look kind of like they're in agony, and it made sense to me that this is just what sex is."
For five years, Madison continued to have penetrative sex, despite often not being able to sleep afterwards because of how much it hurt.
"It feels very raw," she explained to me. "Lots of burning, stinging, it's a sort of jolty sensation. Like putting a flame to that part of the body... or like a Chinese burn on the arm. Really agitated."
Things you can't talk about on TV: Labia. Post continues below.
In an article Madison wrote for Vice entitled 'An Open Letter to My Vagina: Sex, Pain, and Vaginismus', she explained "I thought all cis-gendered, heterosexual women faked it. I thought we'd all subscribed to some hilarious inside joke where, in a parallel universe, we'd laugh over coffee about how, as much as sex hurts, we all wanted it. Pain was just a price we had to pay... Because how do you tell somebody you care about and long for at 17 that his love feels like razor blades?"
It wasn't until Madison went to the doctor to undergo a pap smear, five years after she'd had sex for the first time, that she realised something wasn't right.
"I literally couldn't do it," she said. Her vagina was clamped shut.
Madison was then referred to a gynecologist, who believed she had an imperforate hymen; a congenital disorder where the hymen fails to perforate and obstructs the vagina.
But when her gynecologist conducted a thorough examination, it became clear that was not the issue. She was made to feel like the discomfort was just "all in [her] head" which she found incredibly frustrating.
Then one day, Madison's roommate linked her to an article they'd seen online entitled "Closed for Business" by Giselle Nguyen. She detailed how "trying to have sex was like a searing blade ripping through me" but ultimately outlined the process by which she overcame the crippling condition. Finally, Madison had a name for what she had long experienced: Vaginismus.